WSOC: Colonels fall short

DALLAS — The Wilkes University women’s soccer team fell short of the MAC Freedom championship for the second year in a row, as the Misericordia University Cougars broke their hearts once again, beating Wilkes 2-1.

It was the Colonels third appearance in the MAC Freedom title game in the last four years, losing to DeSales and Misericordia twice in that stretch.

The Cougars won their sixth conference title in the last seven years. Misericordia also came into this match ranked ninth in the country for Division III soccer.

The game began with the Colonels on their heels. Misericordia threw the kitchen sink at Wilkes to start the game, but Colonel goalkeeper Samantha Cecere stood on her head to keep the game scoreless for as long as possible.

After Cecere made an incredible diving save, the Cougars took advantage of a corner kick. Misericordia’s Kaylee Sturans capitalized on her opportunity to break the scoreless tie by tucking a shot underneath the crossbar with 12:01 left in the first half.

The Colonels were under siege the rest of the first half, but they were able to weather the storm to keep it at a one-goal game.

“Our game plan all night was to limit their opportunities on corners and to generate as many as we could,” said Wilkes head coach John McNichol. “Being down, we needed a goal moving forward in the game, so we needed to move our numbers up and take a chance.”

The second half ended the way that the first half started, with Misericordia controlling the game.

About five minutes into the second half, the ball found its way to the Cougars’ side of the field, where the Colonels generated a chance for a corner kick. Junior Jessica Egan sent the ball right into the heart of the box, and the ball was redirected towards the Misericordia goal. The Colonels’ fans in the stands started to celebrate as the ball looked like it was marked for the back of the net until the Cougars’ goalkeeper Alexis Benedetto sprawled to her right to make a save that left the entire crowd speechless.

Misericordia didn’t stop to admire their goalkeeper’s work, as they sprinted up the field with the ball. Misericordia’s Evelyn Logie sent a set-piece up for Jeanna Orfanos to head home and give the Cougars a 2-0 lead.

“I thought our best thirty minutes of the game were our first thirty,” said Misericordia head coach Mark Stauffer. “I thought we should’ve had three or four goals. I told them that we needed another goal to be comfortable in this one.”

The Colonels sense of urgency kicked into another gear once they went down two goals with just over thirty-five minutes to get those goals back.

The field still seemed to be tilted toward the Colonels goal, as the ball remained on that side. There wasn’t much space for the Colonels to work, as the Cougar defense closed in on the ball fast and used their speed to get the ball back.

The next chance for the Colonels came with just over ten minutes left when senior Nicolette Towlen sent a pass over to a cutting Egan, who was tackled in the box. The referee immediately signaled for a penalty kick. Egan faked to her left then sent a shot to the bottom right corner to cut the lead in half.

Trailing 2-1 with 10:24 remaining, McNichol and the Colonels knew it was time to throw everything they had onto the field.

Wilkes moved the ball down the field, and Towlen sent a ball towards the middle of the field where it was once again sent toward the Cougars’ net. With the lead on the line, Benedetto made another save that kept the Colonels down.

After coming within inches of a 2-2 game, the Colonels could smell overtime. The fight continued all the way to the final buzzer, with the Colonels coming up short.

“We battled. We’ve been down before and I can’t think of one time where we thought we were out of a game,” McNichol said. “The last part of the game, we really brought it to them and we came really close to finishing, but we played a very good team in Misericordia.”

The Colonels now wait to see if they will be playing in the ECAC tournament. If they do not get in, their season is most likely over, marking the end of McNichol’s first season.Although they fell short of a MAC Freedom title, it was still successful in that Wilkes played well and fought hard, showing pride and faith in their new head coach.

MAC Freedom Championship

Misericordia 2, Wilkes 1

Wilkes`0`1- 1

Misericordia`1`1- 2

First half– 1. MIS, Kaylee Sturans (Alexa Alchevsky), 12:01. Second half– 2. MIS, Jeanna Orfanos (Evelyn Logie), 37:25; 3. WIL, Jessica Egan, 10:24.

Shots– WIL 8; MIS 15. Saves– WIL 3 (Samantha Cecere); MIS 3 (Alexis Benedetto). Corner kicks– WIL 2; MIS 1.